Your feel good guide to Lisbon

Hidden cocktail bars, pastéis de nata tours, museum shops and more, here’s everything you should do in the sunny Portuguese city

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Hidden cocktail bars, pastéis de nata tours, museum shops and more, here’s everything you should do in the sunny Portuguese city

By Darshita Goyal17 May 2024
12 mins read time
12 mins read time

A month ago, if you asked me why anyone should pick Portugal over party towns in Spain or pasta-fuelled Italy, I would struggle to make my case. But after spending a few days in Lisbon — not even the sprawling sea and sand of Porto — I’m a convert and I know you will be, too. There’s so much more to the city than Ronaldo, blue tiles and pastéis de nata; although I would argue the latter two are enough of a reason to get on that flight anyway.

To begin with, before you even set foot in Lisbon, you land over an azure blue sea. That alone can make any rain-sick Londoner pack their bags. And I’m so glad I did: invited me to stay at Palácio Ludovice, their award-winning property in the city. After realising that 45 per cent of travellers suffer from severe decision fatigue from where to eat and drink to where to stay, the bookings and discovery platform decided to create a ‘Perfect Somewheres’ programme.

This curated list celebrates the top 1 per cent of hotels on the app and, unlike other travel awards, this one isn’t dictated by how expensive or exclusive, rather it takes a data-driven approach to evaluate how hotels treat guests. In the UK, Nomad London and The Aviator became frontrunners while other hotels earned high slots for top-notch service including chartering a seaplane to return a customer’s wallet(!) or bringing in a seamstress to rescue a panicked bride.

Thankfully I didn’t need any rescuing while in Lisbon but the hotel’s spa did undo my million-dollar under eye bags, if that counts. It also became the perfect stomping ground to get out and see the city. That’s what I’m here to share. Welcome to the woo guide to Lisbon, a treat for every kind of traveller. Warning: you will look up flights to Portugal after this, and you’re welcome.

Where to eat

Empanar I stumbled upon this little gem while walking to another — more famous — place and I’m so glad I paused to peek. Run by two Brazilian brothers, one in the kitchen whipping up delicious, crispy empanadas and the other at the bar making cocktails, Empanar quickly became a highlight in Lisbon. Think: warm, curved-up walls and inviting mirrors. You have to try the aubergine empanada and the vodka-based Sunny Lisbon, it may just be my favourite cocktail ever.

Lisboa Tu et Mu While walking, rather climbing, up the staggered hills in old town Alfama, it was impossible to miss the slowly growing crowd parked outside this unassuming Portuguese restaurant. The colourful patterned tables perched under a giant shady tree and more specifically, the little balcony upstairs that seats just two, like a little opera house special, instantly stood out. Have the tangy olives, black bean rice and flambéed cod, and never end a meal without pastéis de nata. Don’t forget to flip over the menu to read about the very special love story that kicked off the restaurant.

Palácio de Grilo You know when you go somewhere for the experience and story you leave with, more than the food itself? Palácio de Grilo, set in an old palace with sprawling (almost eerie) gardens and art deco sculptures, is exactly that. If you’re veggie like me, the buttery risotto and a heap of cocktails are your only viable options, but make the trip for the atmosphere and the interactive art. Some call it performance art, I call it a conversation starter — years from now when I look back at this trip, I know this is the story I’ll still be sharing.

Casa de Linhares Likely the most popular spot for hearty grub in Alfama, Casa de Linhares feels like a cave that’s been sharpened into a posh restaurant. If you want a real taste of Portuguese cuisine complete with some of the city’s best Fado shows, this is where you want to be. Warning: make a reservation and don’t show up on a Sunday afternoon like I did, the restaurant only opens in the evenings.

Ponto Final When you book your flights to Lisbon, don’t stop there. Go the extra mile and email (yes, the old school way) Ponto Final to make a reservation. A true TikTok icon, the restaurant sits pretty by the Tagus river, and views from here are worth the hype and tourist buzz.

Tricky’s Let’s just say, you want to be spotted at Tricky’s. Well known for bringing an international flavour to Lisbon with its artichoke tortellini and wild octopus dishes, this small plates cocktail bar promises hot people, vibey music and a great start to a long night of bar hopping.

Pastéis de Nata tour

Manteigaria You’re probably going to see a queue snaking around this cult pastry shop that’s so small it fits only a handful of hungry dessert enthusiasts at one go. When you do make it inside, stop for a moment longer to watch the pastry chefs fill rows of custard tarts like elegant clockwork.

Pastéis de Belém Did you even go to Lisbon if you didn’t make it out to Belém for these delicious egg tarts? Stepping into Pastéis de Belém is like time travelling – the bakery is infamous for its “secret” recipe inherited from the neighbouring Jeronimos Monastery that dates all the way back to 1837. Don’t hold back from taking a box of six home, they travel well.

Castro This pastry shop calls itself an atelier and rightly so. While Castro has the same old world charm and open kitchen window as others on this list, it stands out with its curated art pieces, all strange, interesting odes to pastéis de natas. You can tell this is a fairly new bakery in that every element is crafted so that the phone eats first, but hey, I’m not complaining.

Confeitaria da Gloria This charming bakery in Amadora stole the “best pastel de nata” award in 2023, and deservedly so. The flaky pastries here are truly chef’s kiss and deserve a special spot on this list. I would go as far as to say, if you can, run here before your flight for some post-vacay treats.

Where to stay

Palácio Ludovice Set in the heart of Lisbon, Palácio Ludovice is what dreams are made of. The palace turned hotel has a centuries-old history as one of the few buildings that survived the apocalyptic earthquake of 1755. Aristocrats lived here and now you can, too. Winner of’s ‘Perfect Somewheres’ award, the hotel opens into São Pedro de Alcantara, offering a near-panoramic view of the city below and of the historic Gloria Tram that nonchalantly parks right ahead of the building. From suites with azulejos (blue Portuguese tiles) on all sides, balconies and marble bathtubs to a complimentary wine tasting with an in-house sommelier, Palácio Ludovice goes the extra mile to make you feel special. Every evening, expect a surprise treat too: a tray of pastéis de natas, a bowl of candy for movie night or a bottle of wine. And if sipping on local port doesn’t cut it, you can step down into their spa for wine-based facials and skin analysis. It literally doesn’t get better than that. Trust me when I say it was so hard to actually leave the room to explore the city.

What to see and do

Tile Museum When you’re not dreaming about custard tarts, Lisbon’s hand painted blue and white azulejos or tiles stand as its most romantic feature. This museum full of ceramic panels, baroque furniture and carved wood lets you trace the history of this artistic feat. Side note: it’s a dream to take photos in.

MAAT The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is one of those special spaces that looks as good (almost better!) on the outside as it does inside. The permanent exhibition runs the gamut from pop culture to wooden sculpture while the grand riverfront makes for a serene evening walk.

Alfama Wake up early — trust me, it’s important to find a spot — and take the iconic tram number 28 up to old-town Alfama. Here the journey and the destination are stunning, so keep your eyes peeled for hilly views, castle-spotting and peppered tile shops. When you make it to the top, indulge in some traditional Portuguese cherry liqueur often sold by women vendors on the side streets. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a couple dancing on the cobbled lanes and if you’re luckier, you’ll see artists painting azulejos in the wild.

Miradouro Saint Garcia Views so good, they deserve a section all of their own. Portugal is filled to the brim with breathtaking miradouros (meaning look-outs): hilltops that overlook the city and promise magical scenes. This one perched high up in Alfama is a fan favourite. Try to grab lunch at the neighbouring restaurants with courtyard views as pretty as the miradouro itself and if you’re carrying a dispo cam (who isn’t?), now’s the moment to whip it out.

St. Jorge Castle Time for those comfortable shoes to come in handy. Hike up further from Alfama to this expansive castle that’s equal parts history lesson and content creation gold mine. Once you’ve wrapped up the audio tours and climbed up and down the many hidden crevices of St Jorge’s castle, make your way to the shops for souvenir heaven feat. magnets and postcards galore.

Museum of Contemporary Art In all honesty, although the exhibitions looked great, I was quite walked out by the time I got here. So I wandered around the gardens and buildings for a bit until I stumbled upon my favourite place in museums: the shop! And when I say it did not disappoint, there’s not an ounce of exaggeration. Expect to stumble upon an expert selection of quirky art reads like Nia Gould’s A History of Art in 21 Cats and Nunzia de Palma’s Diary of an Azulejo along with recipe books and souvenirs that scream touriste not tourist trap, iykwim.

Belém Monastery and Tower After the scrumptious pastéis de nata in Belém, it’s time to see the sights. Start with the grunge meets baroque tower that sits pretty by the river, surrounded by water on one side and gardens full of vendors selling piña coladas and gelato on the other. Then walk 15 minutes out through winding streets to reach the ornate monastery, a religious meeting point but also an art lovers’ haven. The intricate carvings on the outside are worth close-up stares.

Where to shop

LX Factory An industrial complex turned art centre with an abundance of shops, bars, restaurants and graffiti lined galleries, LX Factory is a sure shot way to experience the mood of Lisbon. Step into The Portuguese Concept for trendy bags and accessories or More Than Wine for a fun array of alcohol-themed presents. If you only go to one place here, it has to be Ler Devagar bookstore. It has two levels stacked high with shelves of books, a printing press and a little coffee shop tucked into the mezzanine.

Benamôr 1925 No matter where you are in Lisbon, a Benamôr 1925 store shouldn’t be too far. The legacy beauty and skincare brand is like a Portuguese The Body Shop except more luxe. While their face cream is the highest selling product, I’m especially into their Pastél de Nata range. Why shouldn’t your hands smell like dessert all the time?

Feira da Ladra If you love a good flea market, you have to plan your trip around a Saturday (or Tuesday) so you can visit Feira da Ladra. There are rows of stalls with clothing, handbags, even fun footwear and accessories, leather and crochet bits, hand-painted postcards, silver jewellery… you name it, they have it. There are also some ceramics shops on the side. Pro tip: don’t enter while flailing your hands, you’re going to break something and will have to pay for a cute but cracked clay cod fish like I did :) Also, carry cash, as most vendors don’t accept cards here.

Cortico & Neto As you can tell, tiles have something of a sway over Lisbon — and me — and this is every azulejo lovers’ paradise. Enter to find walls stacked with framed hand painted panels in countless colour combinations and patterns. It is a little more pricey than the tourist shops but it also gives lush vibes so you decide if it’s worth it. I’d say yes x

By Nunes Another pottery house full of beautiful tiles (are you sensing a pattern here?) This family-run business also has a range of fun coasters and crockery. In case you have a soft spot for pretty plates, this one’s for you. My personal favourites are the incense holders in rich hues of blue, so good.

8 Marvila I caught a TikTok that said that 8 Marvila is to the locals what LX Factory (above) is to the tourists, so if you’re looking for an up and coming cultural centre with chic Portuguese fashion labels, cafés and galleries, put this on your to-do list. The space also doubles as a nightclub, hosting some of Lisbon’s homegrown artists and DJs, so make sure you stick around after dark.

Day Trips

Sintra An hour away from Lisbon, this hilly, dense forested town is essential on a trip to Portugal. From the brightly painted, Moorish Peña Palace and the expansive flowering gardens surrounding it to the more gothic Quinta da Regaleira, that is home to the initiation well and connecting grottoes, at every turn Sintra is rich in history and somehow also aesthetic. You need at least one full day to take in everything that the town has to offer so wear comfortable shoes, the hills are steep and there’s a lot of walking (unless you want to catch one of the chaotic tuk tuks that drive up the hills, that is).

Cascais Full disclosure, I didn’t get to go here because we ran out of time, oops. But if you love deep blue seas and sand (who doesn’t?), you have to stay an extra day to visit Cascais. A quick train ride away from Lisbon, this town has breathtaking beaches dotted all across its coastline. And yes, I am going back soon to experience this!

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